On March 19, 2018, President of West Virginia’s AFL-CIO Josh Sword found out he had stage three colorectal cancer — the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women combined.
“That is a day that myself and my family will never forget,” he said. “It was when our world came crashing down.”
One in 22 men and one in 24 women are at risk of developing colorectal cancer in their lifetime, and to raise awareness, Sword’s team with members of AFL-CIO, their families and friends will be participating in the CAMC Foundation’s “Run for Your Life” five-mile run and half-mile walk this Saturday in Charleston starting at Haddad Riverfront Park.
The event works in partnership with FestivALL to benefit colorectal cancer awareness and screening initiatives to help fund critical testing procedures for those who may not be able to afford them.
This is the very first time AFL-CIO’s unions have created a team. They already have 70 people signed up for the run and walk Saturday morning starting at 8, and Sword said they’re doing everything they can to bring awareness to the disease.
“I’m so proud of the industry that I’m in, representing working families and how we’re able to do just a small part,” he said. “If we can just save one life, it’ll be worth it.”
According to the CAMC Foundation’s Developmental Officer Darian Gist, the event was created 16 years ago after former Charleston Daily Mail City Editor Jody Jividen died of colorectal cancer in 2002.
Last year, Chris Stadelman, another former Daily Mail employee and a chief of staff of former governor Earl Ray Tomblin, lost his fight with the disease. He had been the honorary chairman for the event previously.
“The race is in honor of those two gentlemen, and all of the proceeds benefit colorectal cancer screening and awareness initiatives, and all of the money raised stays here in our community helping patients at the CAMC Cancer Center,” Gist said.
The Cancer Center was where Sword went through a round of chemotherapy, radiation treatment, surgery to remove his tumor and another round of chemo that wrapped up in January. As of now, he is cancer free.
“This is all still new, and I have to go back every six months and get scanned, but my doctors have been very pleased with how my body has responded to the treatment,” he said. “That’s a positive indicator moving forward.”
Sword said he never really knew much about the disease before his diagnosis.
“I’d heard of it but knew very little about it,” he said, adding that he knew Stadelman when he was going through his fight. “I remember having meetings with him in Governor Tomblin’s office, when he was the governor’s chief of staff, and I remember having conversations about him actually going through treatment at the time, and I understood what he was saying, but I had no idea what he really meant until now having gone through that kind of treatment.”
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2019 there will be an estimated 101,420 new cases of colon cancer and 44,180 cases of rectal cancer in the United States. The group also recommends that people now receive their first colonoscopy at 45 instead of the previously recommended age of 50.
For Sword, he believes early detection is crucial.
“First and foremost, you have to be educated and aware of what needs to be done for that early detection, and that’s a colonoscopy,” he said. “Right now, the American Cancer Society has reduced the recommendation from 50 to 45. I imagine that we’re going to see that go lower, because when we went for our second opinion to [Memorial] Sloan Kettering [Cancer Center] in New York, they were all over me, and the reason is because there is an alarming trend of folks under 50 who are getting diagnosed with colorectal cancer.”
Sword was 42 when he was diagnosed. Years before he was scheduled to have his first colonoscopy.
He said the main thing that helped him get through his fight was his support system.
“The support system from your family and your friends and your work family is a game changer in all of this, and I’m blessed because I have amazing support from all three areas,” he said. “My family is second to none, I have the best friends in the world and my work family, they’re just unbelievable. You just can’t put a price tag on any of that when you’re going through something so devastating.”
Since his diagnosis and treatment, Sword said he’s learned that so many other families are dealing with the same thing he was last year, and that’s part of the reason why he decided to participate in the event.
“It’s opened my eyes to folks who are battling and have beaten this horrible disease,” he said. “I know very few families now that haven’t been impacted by cancer in some capacity.”
However, Sword said that for him, “Run for Your Life” is a time for remembrance.
“I certainly can’t speak for other survivors, but to me, it’s not so much about us, those who have had cancer and are still here. This is an opportunity for us to remember those who weren’t able to defeat this horrible disease and to do all we can to keep others from having to go through it,” he said.
Another member of the AFL-CIO team, James Hailey, who is the business manager for the Laborers’ Local Union 1353 in Charleston, is currently going through treatment for stage four colorectal cancer. Sword said that Hailey has numerous family members, friends and people from the local union coming out to support the event.
Gist said the race has more than 560 participants have signed up so far, which is the most in they’ve ever had, and has raised more than $93,000. The goal was $75,000.
Sword said even if he and his fellow union-workers’ participation in “Run for Your Life” can help one person, it was all worth it.
“It truly has been something that we have enjoyed promoting, and I think people will have fun but most importantly raise awareness, educate folks and raise money so folks can get the testing they need for protection,” he said.
While online registration has closed for the event, those interested in participating can sign up during packet pickup on Friday, from 3-7 p.m. at the CAMC Cancer Center or the day of the race from 7-8 a.m. Saturday.
Donations can also be made by visiting https://give.camcfoundation.org/event/2019-camc-foundation-run-for-your-life-5-mile-run-2-5-mile-walk/e220704.